La Alberca, Spain: A Glimpse of Yesterday
A balcony in La Alberca, Spain. Photos by Karina Halle.
By Karina Halle
Although Spain is a magnificent country with countless historic sights, bustling cities and plenty of stunning locations, it can be overwhelming.
After all, there are only so many museums, art galleries and beaches you can take before you lose the feel for the country and get sucked into benign tourist mode.
For those travelers who want a more subtle and authentic glimpse into the heart of Spain, there is no better place to start than La Alberca, a town well known for its traditions and customs that date back to the 14th Century.
Located in the province of Salamanca, and a one-and-a-half-hour bus ride from the titular city, La Alberca is close to civilization yet removed enough to preserve its pastoral charm.
At 1084 meters (3,556 feet) above sea level and nestled on the northern slopes of La Sierra de Francia, its isolation and the conflux of granite, slate and quartzite create a breeding ground for a variety of wild vegetation and beckoning forests of oak, chestnut, and almond groves. With homely farms dotting the varying landscape, this is rural Spain at its finest.
The charming town was founded in the 1300s and was the first village to be declared a National Historical Monument by the Spanish government.
It is extremely well-preserved, as you can see by its fabulous medieval architecture, narrow cobblestone roads and thatched roofs. In fact, all new buildings must be made in the same manner and style as the old ones.
Most of the houses were built with the intention of raising animals and smoking their meat inside, and as a result, many floors had holes in them, to allow the curing of the meat on the highest floor.Traditionally, the houses (which may not have more than three floors) are made of stone and granite quarried from the surrounding environs and supported with wooden beams.
Even today, La Alberca abounds with fine meat shops, all hawking their delectable Jamón Serrano (or mountain ham). Rustic paddocks surround the village, stocked with strapping young pigs that grow fat on the local black acorns, producing the rich flavor of this famous export.
Aside from the splendid ham, La Alberca has an array of specialty stores that sell everything from roasted nuts and jars of local honey to sweet turrón, the Spanish desert of honey, almonds and egg whites.
Once you try turrón you’ll be loading your suitcase with bars of it to bring back home, hopefully to share with friends and family. Or maybe not.
Although only 1,000 villagers still reside in La Alberca, that doesn’t mean you won’t find a memorable place to eat. The sprawling Hotel Doña Teresa operates three great restaurants throughout the town, El Castillo, La Catedral and La Abuela Carmen.
The Horno de Lena near the town square is also a worthwhile place. Being the gregarious and generous Spaniards they are, don’t be surprised if you find yourself invited to dinner by one of the proud locals.
When it comes time to sample the local wines and drinks, there are numerous little tapas bars scattered throughout the town, a great pick being the simply named Bar La Alberca, which faces the town’s picturesque main square.
If you are in mind for a “free” beverage while in the square, there is the reported “fountain of youth,” where cold, fresh and fabled water runs from a spigot on the wall.
It would not be Spain without the ever-present town church. La Alberca’s church may look unassuming from the outside but inside it tells a different and historically rich story.
The Church of the Asunción houses many revered wonders such as a 16th-century pulpit sculpted in granite, a splendid Gothic copper processional cross and a figure of Cristo del Sudor.
Due to its mountainous location, La Alberca has harsh winters and hot and dry summers. Spring and autumn are mild, making it an ideal time to escape the heat and the summer crowds (yes, La Alberca does get some tourists!)
One of the main events in La Alberca is on the day of the Virgin of August, when a play is staged in the narrow village streets. Villagers put on their acting hat for the day and become numerous characters.
The atmosphere of the village is lifted by the opulently adorned costumes and the enthusiasm of the locals. Another fun fiesta is at Easter, for the ‘El Día del Trago’ when the Town Hall invites the whole village to an aperitif.
Because of La Alberca’s welcoming and traditional climate, it makes a pleasant stop for any inquisitive travelers who want to experience the often underrated simple pleasures of old-town Spain.
Where to Stay
Buses and trains run frequently from Madrid to Salamanca. From there, there is a daily bus service to La Alberca.
Salamanca Travel and Transport
Tel: +34 923 236 717
Karina Halle is a freelance writer and blogger who wishes she was spending the next few years galavanting around South America instead of hurtling ceaselessly towards her thirties. Karina resides in Vancouver, British Columbia and has recently completed her first novel. Don’t worry, it does not involve vampires. Read her blog, Anywhere but Here.